In a culture where being different is widely regarded as being inferior, it is not surprising that people feel ashamed and embarrassed if their family patterns differ from those of the people with whom they associate. Among adults, such feelings are a carry-over from their childhood experiences.
No family pattern is “deviant” unless it differs from other families in the group with which the person is identified in some conspicuous way. Divorce and remarriage may be considered deviant in one social group while, in other, they are so common as to be regarded as normal. Similarly’ in one group the majority of mother work outside the home, while in another only one or two mothers do.
Being different affects people of all age levels, though the effects are greatest in late childhood and early adolescence. A brief discussion of a few deviant family patterns will illustrate what the effects are.
When one parent is absent, due to death, divorce, desertion, separation, or some other cause, the home becomes a “solo” home, with one parent, usually the mother, playing the role of both parents.
The solo home may be a source of embarrassment to all family members or it may be a source of pride. If the father’s absence is due to divorce or desertion, it will usually be a source of embarrassment. If he is serving his country overseas in the armed force or is engaged in the occupation that requires frequent and long absences from home, his absence will probably be a source of pride. Members of social group judge the solo home by the same standards as family members, and so their judgments reinforce those of family members.
Since the child personality pattern is largely molded during the early years of life, the parent’s absence at this time leaves its mark on the child’s personality. When the father is away from home, then the mother tends to be more indulgent and less demanding in her child training. This encourages the child to be dependent and less mature than his age-mates conditions that jeopardize his social relationships and lead to unfavorable social judgments.
Lacking a source of masculine identification, boys are more likely to be psychologically damaged by the father’s absence from the home than are girls. By comparison with boys from homes where the father is present, boys from solo homes are usually more dependent and less sex appropriate in their behavior. Their poorer personal and social adjustments often lead to aggressive behavior and to poor school work. As a result, they are unfavorably judged by others.
The personality effect of a solo home is not limited to children. It is felt by parents as well as other family members. The father will have feelings of guilt about neglecting his children, even if supports them. He will be lonely and will envy fathers who can share their children’s lives. And he may be ashamed if he feels that he is unfavorably judged by outsiders.
Many wives resent the extra burden of work and responsibility placed on them in a solo home. They are lonely and often try to compensate for their loneliness by attaching themselves emotionally to their elder sons, whom they come to regard as surrogate husbands. Even more common, they are almost always anxious about their ability to play both the mother and father roles successfully. They try to overcome these unfavorable effects, in many cases, by remarriage.